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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

How the New River Path makes you think about... deserts

How well do you know where you live? I'm based in London so it's a pleasure to explore a little known path along a canal that runs from Hertford directly into Islington. Words from Nicola Baird  (see www.nicolabaird.com or www.islingtonfacesblog.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Pete on a section of the New River Path. "Water, water everywhere, and
not a drop to drink," - a famous line from The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.
The New River Path is a 28 mile (45km) footpath which stays close to a canal, hand-dug back in 1613. It was built to bring fresh drinking water from the springs at Amwell, near Hertford into north London. Quite amazingly it's still doing this job. I know this because at the entrance to many of the grassy paths running on just one bank of each section of the New River (which as you've guessed now is neither new, nor a river) is a Thames Water notice saying that it brings fresh water to north London so no fishing or boating is allowed (and cyclists are definitely not welcome).

Here's a link to the map created by Thames Water which guides you along the whole of the New River Path.

The classic New River Path view
with swan, goose and kissing gate.
More friendly is the sign that says "non public right of way but the owner allows the public to use it at their own risk for the time being."

It is however a wonderful walk from or to the heart of Islington where I live. In fact the ending is at the old river head close to Sadler's Wells (the clue is in that name too). This is now super chic apartments (I know because i managed to slip into the building at the last September Open House) which has the old oak-panelled board room in situ which residents are allowed to hire this for dinner parties!

Real deserts
Do you take potable water for granted? I absolutely do. It is such luck to live in the UK and be able to moan about our crazy climate with its endless rain showers. We got wet plenty of times on our New River odyssey. And if we forgot water we just looked for a pub and asked for a free glass or for our water bottle to be topped up.

Food deserts
A lot of the New River takes the walker through suburbia - rows of Edwardian style villas adapted to make it easy to drive everywhere. As a result there are no corner shops and no cafes selling a nice cup of tea - unless you head to the centre of the area you are passing, or a cafe in a park. So many front gardens are paved over and crowded with cars - often there's space for three vehicles.

Cultural deserts
I really like Cheshunt - to the east of the railway station is an entrance to Lee Valley Park, designed both as a nature reserve and London's playground. I've been here to take a walk, to listen to nightingales and simply to escape the city. But to the west of the station Cheshunt is a good example of dreadful ribbon development. The houses are rarely above two-floors so they seem to spread out for miles. I'd thought of Cheshunt as the countryside, partly because it is not on the A-Z. But there is considerable new building going up - a lot of it daft executive style homes built in too grand a style, too close to each other. It's true that I'm used to the Victorian/Georgian streets of Islington but they are at least offer high density living. Although i guess that's why people move out too, to get more space. But "more space" is at the expense of green and brown belt.

Increasingly Cheshunt has become a London overflow. For example the lovely lady I've been mentoring through Migrants Organise was temporarily housed in Cheshunt, byTottenham Council - much to her distress. She knew it wasn't London where she wanted to be - in part because it lacks bus services (although there are some) and the sort of cheap food shop she needed to survive. It was also an exceedingly expensive journey to her children's school in inner London. I couldn't convince her to visit the New River Path as she felt it was too far for her and her little kids to walk. Sadly she was a little scared of the Lee Valley Country Park.

Map 1 of 5 which guide you along
the New River Path.
Memories from the New River Path
It's taken my family nine trips starting in October 2013 and finishing in March 2017...
  • Detouring in Ware to look at the famous gazebos built along the River Lea
  • Endless stopping for someone in the party to put on a hat, take off gloves, have a rest, need a drink, pick up the dog's poo etc. If you walk with others build in hours of wasted (quality) time. If you route march you can be sure your family and friends won't join you again.
  • Introducing our daughters' friends to the New River Path
  • Listening to more than 100 Canada and Egyptian geese on the fields near the Cheshunt section
  • Being surprised to find the New River was put into a double-tunnel above the traffic to cross the M25 motorway.
  • Watching a cormorant dive and catch a fish in Enfield.
  • Hearing a swan beat its wings as it flew down a section of New River, about 2 metres above the water.
  • Finding a surprise farmers' market in Palmer's Green and buying a tasty loaf of bread.
  • The New River Festival held in Finsbury Park to celebrate 400 years since the canal was built.
New River path is on the left of this shot at the London Wildlife Trust's
newest reserve in Hackney.
What's the best bit?
Recently the East Reservoir has become a stunning Wildlife Trust nature reserve - opened by David Attenborough and boasting all sorts of fantastic wildlife, including the occasional bittern. There's also a fab cafe, Lizzy's at the Coal House Cafe (open every day 9am-4pm, not long after the reserve is locked). A walk beside the reed beds is always a treat, even if there's plenty of noise from Purin or any other festival sounds floating from not-so-far away Clissold Park. This huge expanse of water is the opposite of a desert - we're lucky to have it in north London.

Over to you
Have you enjoyed a trip down the New River path? Let me know your favourite section.



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